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Rape Is A Vile Crime, But The ‘Epidemic’ Of Campus Sexual Violence Is Exaggerated

Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated. If people actually believed that 20 percent of college girls ended up being raped or sexually assaulted—as activists claimed—then they’d quit sending their daughters.

Instead, what’s happened on too many campuses has been a kind of psychosexual panic akin to the “recovered memory” episodes of the 1980s—such as the infamous McMartin preschool trial in Los Angeles, and the fantastic allegations of orgiastic rape and murder in Olympia, Washington described in Lawrence Wright’s terrific book Remembering Satan.

This is in no way to minimize rape, a vile crime deserving heavy prison time. Nor even boorish drunken carousing often winked at by college authorities even as Title IX administrators on the same campuses conduct Star Chamber sex investigations against students accorded none of the due process rights guaranteed in the US Constitution.

It’s not a criminal matter, you see. Merely one’s educational and professional future that can be at stake.

Somebody changes her mind after a one-night-stand and a young man may as well pack up and go home. That, or prepare himself for months in virtual exile, banned from anywhere on campus frequented by the “survivor” of this misbegotten tryst, while being interrogated by an administrator serving as one-size-fits-all investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.

There is no right to remain silent. Refusal to testify against oneself can result in expulsion. No cross-examining one’s accuser, either. It’s thought too traumatic. Anything an accused student does say can be used against him at a criminal trial.

The standard of guilt is the “preponderance of evidence,” i.e. 51 percent. Were they alone together in his dorm room? OK, then he raped her.

I’m sorry, that does not sound like America.

If you think that’s too strong, check out the excellent series of investigative articles by The Atlantic’s Emily Yoffe. A careful, even scholarly reporter, Yoffe describes an upside-down world where the weaker the evidence of sexual transgression in too many instances, the stronger the finding of guilt.

Indeed, things on campus had gotten so out of hand that Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy De Vos has even taken time out from her busy schedule of attacking public schools to promise badly needed reforms to the Obama-mandated Title IX system.  Groups of law professors at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the American Association of Trial Lawyers and the American Association of University Professors broadly support her.

Campus activists are certain to put up a fight. If nothing else, quite a few jobs could be at stake. Harvard University, for example, now has 55 Title IX investigators—full time sex sleuths, most of them.

“Who Gets to Define Campus Rape?” ask Miriam Gleckman-Krut and Nicole Bedera, University of Michigan “campus sexual violence researchers” in a recent New York Times op ed.  Definitely not judges and juries. “College tribunals,” we’re reminded “are not criminal courts.” Also, false rape accusations are perishingly rare—a truism among academic feminists that Yoffe shows to be based upon fallacious evidence.

In real life, of course, both men and women lie all the time, and sex is one of the topics they lie about most often. Ask any divorce lawyer.

But the real heart of the matter comes when Gleckman-Krut and Bedera insist that bad witnesses are the best witnesses: “[T]rauma can make survivors seem disorganized to campus administrators who are untrained.”

To Emily Yoffe, this is the intellectual heart of the matter. Based upon a highly influential, but highly unscientific paper called “The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault,” Title IX investigators have been taught that trauma wrecks memory, so that the more confused a victim’s story, the truer it’s apt to be.

Brain scientists Yoffe interviewed say otherwise, as does common experience. Terrible events too often can’t be forgotten. Intoxication, however, definitely makes for shaky recall. Meanwhile, as in “recovered memory” episodes of yore, overzealous inquisitors can persuade people of damn near anything.

Yoffe writes that her own reporting doesn’t “typically describe campuses filled with sociopathic predators. They mostly paint a picture of students, many of them freshmen, who begin a late-night consensual sexual encounter, well lubricated by alcohol, and end up with divergent views of what happened.”

 In short, basic Animal House stuff—more John Belushi than, well, Donald Trump. The Michigan team does patronizingly concede “that being accused of sexual assault hurts. And there are things that we can and should do to help accused students — namely, providing them with psychological counsel. But accused men’s pain does not excuse rape, and men shouldn’t be the ones defining it.”

Look, nothing excuses rape. Nowhere, never. But they can keep their psychological counseling. It’s legal counsel accused students need.

Let judges and juries do the defining.  

Greek System Is Standing In The Way Of Tackling Campus Sexual Assault

Fraternities and sororities have a choice. Either they can be part of the solution to campus sexual assaults or they can choose to be part of the problem.

Guess which direction the major Greek system associations are going?

They’ve hired a heavy-hitting lobbyist to advance a bill in Congress that would hamper colleges’ ability to investigate sexual assault allegations. The bill, misleadingly dubbed the Safe Campus Act, would bar university administrators from conducting inquiries into such cases until the victims reported the assaults to the police.

The attitude behind the bill seems to be: If the purported crime is so serious, let the police handle it. What’s wrong with that? Advocates for survivors of sexual attacks argue that such a law would discourage, not encourage, more victims from coming forward. Given the stigma still associated with this highly underreported crime, that extra onus will surely result in less cooperation from victims.

And never mind that a police investigation could take years. A predator could attack other students and earn their full degree before the courts finish.

Fortunately, there is a better bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, that addresses the problem in the right way and has strong bipartisan support. The bill’s principal sponsors, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) happen to be proud sorority women (Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, respectively), and they held a press call on Thursday to vent their rage that the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) and the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) could support such counterproductive legislation.

McCaskill and Gillibrand have a long history of leadership addressing sexual assault. First, they teamed to get better standards and procedures accepted by the military for assaults that occur within the armed services. McCaskill surveyed colleges and universities, finding that 40 percent admitted that they hadn’t investigated a single sexual assault allegation in five years.

Changing that dynamic, they believe, is key to making campuses safer. It appears it’s also a threat to the college Greek systems.

“We see too many students — accusers and accused — subjected to a campus disciplinary system that is unfair and opaque,” the NIC and NPC lamented in a joint letter to Congress this summer in support of the Campus Safety Act. Both organizations have shied from commenting since, letting their lead lobbyist, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, make their case.

Deeper in the letter, the organizations fessed up to another concern. Greek organizations, especially fraternities, feel under attack, with university sanctions occurring upon entire chapters, not just individual members involved in misdeeds.

So apparently this discomfort justifies a law that will insure that fewer victims come forward?

What the NIC, the NPC and the Republican sponsors of their favored bill (Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona, Kay Granger of Texas and Pete Sessions of Texas) seem to be missing is that McCaskill and Gillibrand’s bill has protections for accused, requiring written notification to them of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of the decision. It also requires universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction.

Moreover, the senators’ bill would require that all educational institutions use a uniform process for disciplinary proceedings, and it would end the practice of allowing athletic departments or other subsidiary administrators from handling complaints, under threat of fines or losing federal funding.

The Greek system has a long history of bad behavior, from hazing rituals gone wrong to drunk pledges falling out of windows to, yes, rape. The question has been raised more than once whether fraternities and sororities should even exist anymore. Through it all, these organizations have become quite adept at avoiding liability.

I’m a Delta Zeta, and I happen to think that the Greek system does a great deal of good that should not be dismissed. But I believe the Interfraternity and Panhellenic conferences are on the wrong side of this. I know I’m not alone

Indeed, by calling out the terrible legislation the Greek conferences are pushing, McCaskill and Gillibrand are banking on the likelihood that fraternity and sorority members on campuses nationwide — not to mention the nearly 10 million Greek system alumni — probably don’t know about it.

But we all know this: Rapes and other sexual assaults are still among the most underreported crimes in America. Victims need more, not less, encouragement to come forward, supported by professionalized processes that are fair to all.

If that shines an unflattering light on some fraternities and sororities, that’s a small price to pay for making campuses safer for all.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at (c) 2015, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Photo: John W. Iwanski via Flickr

Student At Center Of Rolling Stone Story Is Not To Blame, Investigation Authors Say

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The University of Virginia student at the center of a discredited Rolling Stone rape story was not to blame when a “systemic” failure of journalism led the magazine to publish her unverified account of the alleged attack, the authors of an outside investigation into the story said Monday.

“This failure was not the subject or source’s fault as a matter of journalism,” Columbia University Journalism School dean Steve Coll, who co-authored the report, said at a news conference in New York. “It was a product of failed methodology. … We disagree with any suggestion that this was Jackie’s fault,” referring to the student, who was only identified by her first name.

The public dissection of the independent report came as criticism against Rolling Stone mounted, with the fraternity accused in the story announcing Monday it would pursue “all available legal action.”

Rolling Stone on Sunday night retracted and apologized for the November cover story as soon as the Columbia report was released. The Columbia team reiterated Monday that it found deep flaws in the reporting and editing of the woman’s narrative of her allegedly being gang raped at a University of Virginia fraternity.

“The report by Columbia University’s School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article,” Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha chapter of that fraternity, said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times. “This type of reporting serves as a sad example of a serious decline of journalistic standards.”

Questions about the authenticity of the rape story had emerged almost immediately after publication, although the school took the accusations seriously and brought in the police. In the end, neither police investigators nor the Columbia University report found evidence that such a rape happened at the fraternity.

“The abject failure of accountability in journalism that led to Rolling Stone‘s ‘A Rape on Campus’ article has done untold damage to the University of Virginia and our Commonwealth as a whole,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a Monday statement. “This false account has been an unnecessary and dangerous distraction from real efforts to combat sexual violence on our college campuses.”

After retracting the rape story, the magazine removed it from its website and replaced it with the 12,644-word independent review by Columbia.

The review, which also found serious lapses in basic journalistic procedure, had been requested by Rolling Stone in December as doubts grew.

Coll said the report’s authors hoped to construct a “case study” that would be useful for journalists, journalism students, and the public “to see exactly how the editorial process broke down.”

He said that breakdown was not the result of the account Jackie gave, but of the magazine’s “failed methodology” in not confirming its basic accuracy.

Sheila Coronel, a dean of academic affairs at Columbia University and a co-author of the report, said the Columbia team decided not to fully identify the student known as Jackie even though her allegations of a gang rape could not be proved.

An attorney for Jackie declined to comment Monday. Jackie did not cooperate with either the police investigation or the Columbia review into the Rolling Stone story.

Although Rolling Stone‘s systemic breakdowns in verification and attribution marked one of the ugliest blemishes in the magazine’s sometimes storied history, Rolling Stone‘s publisher had no plans to fire any of the editors or the writer involved with the story, a spokeswoman said.

Through that spokeswoman, Rolling Stone‘s publisher, Jann S. Wenner, and its managing editor, Will Dana, declined requests for interviews with the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

In an interview with The New York Times on Sunday, Wenner had called Jackie “a really expert fabulist storyteller,” adding that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

The Columbia report’s authors found no instances of fabrication or lying on the part of Rolling Stone.

Rather than blame a single person for the story’s failure — such as the author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely — the Columbia authors instead detailed a systemic breakdown of journalism at Rolling Stone.

“The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision, and fact-checking,” wrote the Columbia authors — deans Coronel, Coll, and Derek Kravitz, a postgraduate research scholar at the journalism school.

“The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all.”

Through a spokeswoman, Erdely declined an interview request Sunday evening, but she apologized in a statement after the Columbia report was published, calling the last few months “among the most painful of my life.”

She apologized “to Rolling Stone‘s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the UVA community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Adam Fagen via Flickr

This Week In Crazy: Obama’s Reefer Madness

Welcome to This Week In Crazy, The National Memo’s weekly update on the wildest attacks, conspiracy theories, and other loony behavior from the increasingly unhinged right wing. Starting with number five:

5. Cliff Kincaid

Cliff Kincaid, via Accuracy In Media

Cliff Kincaid (Accuracy In Media)

Everyone does stupid things at some point in life. But while many of us move on and grow, it turns out that President Obama’s well-documented and fully copped-to dalliance with marijuana as a young man was not the sort of indiscretion one can simply sleep off. According to Cliff Kincaid, Obama is still under the spell of that reefer madness, and the whole country is paying the price. When young Barack’s guard was down, smothered in a cannabinoid haze, apparently he was brainwashed into communism.

Kincaid is the director of the Accuracy in Media Center for Investigative Journalism, the same conservative media watchdog that thought Fox News was too liberal, so his relationship with reality might be best described as “complicated.” Still, the baroque paranoia at work during his Tuesday appearance on Rick Wiles’ TruNews radio show is something:

He was a heavy marijuana user. That had to have an effect on him. Maybe it’s clouded him some way, it enabled [activist and poet Frank Marshall] Davis to brainwash him. Of course we know he was raised partly as a Muslim. These are the ingredients that went into the combustible material that we see in the White House today, and the whole thing is threatening to explode.

Right Wing Watch has the audio.

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